Aya Kanai took over as the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire at the beginning of this year after working as chief fashion director at Hearst Publications for four years. Her first few months on the job presented more than a few challenges. While she was in Europe for fashion week in January, the spread of the coronavirus canceled shows, events, and sent everyone into a panic. As an Asian woman, she felt nervous to be in public alone. She’s been in Brooklyn with her husband and 2-year-old daughter ever since, putting out the magazine’s first digital issue, and making the upcoming September issue remotely. Here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
Typically, I’m an early morning person. I find that I need to have some alone time in my day, and historically, my subway commute was where I would get that. Now, I will often wake up at 5:30 a.m. On a good day, I’ll walk to the Brooklyn Bridge, and go over and back to get in my steps. Then I’ll come home and meditate for 20 minutes, and read a book for 20 minutes. I read parenting books — Cribsheet, The Whole-Brain Child, Free to Learn — and then struggle to put the advice to use. I also read cookbooks but never cook. I particularly love the Dimes cookbook, and Eating Out Loud by Eden Grinshpan. And I love autobiographies, like Me by Katherine Hepburn and André Leon Talley’s book, The Chiffon Trenches.
As lockdown has loosened up, so has my dedication. These days, I might get the walk in, but often I just wake up and look at my phone. Some days my morning is all on the path to positivity, and some days I’m just holding myself together with glue and duct tape.
On structuring her days:
Every day is different. Life revolves around child care, video calls, Outlook cal, Google Keep, and working my way through a 25-pound bag of organic lentils that my husband and I bought when we thought there was going to be a food shortage. I think we’re going to be eating them for lunch until the end of time. It’s a nice break that we have, though. My husband is working at home as well, but there are often times where the day will go by and we will have spoken to each other maybe once or twice, or sometimes zero, because we’re both really involved in whatever it is we’re doing.
On her WFH setup:
My WFH set up is a little secretary desk in the corner of my bedroom. I recently purchased this standing desk and this stool. Neither are lovely to look at but the setup is practical and works for me so far. My husband is a very tolerant man.
On juggling a full-time job and child care:
I switch gears all day long relative to child care and work. It’s a juggling act, but also, it’s really nice to have someone in the house who does not know that this is happening. My daughter is just having a good time. She’s living her best life with her mom and dad around.
During lockdown, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays were my days, so that meant on Wednesdays, I wasn’t able to put anything on my calendar. I would wake up early to do Zoom meetings with Marie Claire’s international editors. I would get through all my emails. And then when my daughter woke up, I would spend the day with her. I would get back to work around 7 p.m., until I fell asleep, or was too exhausted.
As of the last couple weeks, my daughter has been back in day care. We have always loved the people at our day care, but I have a new and deeper appreciation for what they do given our lockdown experience.
On making a magazine remotely:
We created a new routing system where every print story is a Slack channel with the relevant editors. Asynchronous communication is my 2020 saving grace. As each stage of the story progresses, each editor will tag the next person when they are up to review the layout and copy. It works quite well. I wouldn’t go back to the old way of routing on paper even if we were all back in the office full time. On the downside, there are creative conversations that would be so much more lively if they were done in person. Having come from a creative background as a fashion director before becoming an editor-in-chief, I love and miss those creative moments so much — discussing a layout, putting together a story. That seems nearly impossible to replicate in WFH life.
On going back to the office:
I started going back to the office once or twice a week around mid-July. I love it. Usually, I’m there by myself, and I’m able to focus on getting my projects done. It’s a real privilege to be able to sit at your office desk. Space! A second monitor! Quiet! No laundry to fold! It’s the best.
I’ve actually been walking there. From my house to Columbus Circle, it takes about two hours. It’s the same bridge walk, but you just keep going. As a born and bred New Yorker, I just like walking places. It’s in my bones. I remember doing it in high school, back when we had Walkmans and only had the same one cassette. I would listen to the Police and walk all over the city. It’s part of how I process. Now, I’m listening to every podcast under the sun: Time to Say Goodbye, Pivot, The Daily, Call Your Girlfriend, The New Abnormal, Nice White Parents. And, of course, answering Slacks and emails as I go. Sometimes I take Lyfts and Ubers — I’m not doing this all the time — but walking is my preferred way.
On winding down:
My husband, kid, and I will do a weekly “F.P.D.,” or “family pizza dinner.” We get pizza and go to the stairs near BAM, where kids practice skateboard tricks. We also go to the playground in the early evening and run through sprinklers or climb on the jungle gym. In Brooklyn, several residential streets have been closed to car traffic, so we will race scooters or just go for walks. I think we all need to get out some end-of-day energy, not just the toddler! Right before bed, my husband will recite poems to my daughter. At this point, she has them memorized; she can recite The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and a few by Robert Frost as well. It’s their special time.
On not getting things done:
I have been easier on myself in the past few months. I set out to read more non-work-related books, and learn some jump-rope routines, but have not made much headway on either. But tomorrow’s another day.
This interview has been edited and condensed.